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Pakxe group’s fish sauce keeps cooks satisfied

Mrs Soumaly Banchongvichit clearly remembers the taste of the padaek (fermented fish sauce) she ate when she moved from Vientiane to her husband’s home in Nonsavang village in Pakxe district, Champassak province, after getting married.
“It tasted so fantastic and the smell was very different from the padaek in Vientiane. It was not just the good taste, but also the aroma,” said Mrs Soumaly, better known to her family and friends as Tai.
Padaek is a key ingredient in many traditional Lao dishes, especially spicy salads. It has been one of the main seasonings in kitchens across Laos for hundreds of years, with the recipe being passed down from generation to generation.
Mrs Tai, who was born and brought up in Vientiane, said her mother-in-law and other residents of Nonsavang village in Pakxe district had at least one big jar of padaek in their kitchen for daily use.

Padaek packaged ready for use in spicy salads.

As Mrs Tai worked with a provincial silver handicrafts group and met many tourists and customers from across the country, she got the idea of selling her mother-in-law’s padaek at the silverware shop.
Soon, the fish sauce began receiving very good feedback from buyers.
In 2010, the Padaek Nonsavang Group was created, made up of nine people in her family. It was later extended to 18 families in Nonsavang as sales increased rapidly.
“When the local fishmonger brings a pile of fish to my house, my family and I have to quickly gut them, cut off the heads and clean them before mixing them with salt, rice bran and some other ingredients before the fish goes rotten,” said Mrs Tai.
“If there is a large delivery of fish, I sometimes have to hire my neighbours to help us.”
Any kind of fish can be used to make padaek, “but we have to separate them because each kind is used to make a different form of padaek”, she said.
“For example, Siamese mud carp (pa soy) provides the best flavour for use in salads, while others are suitable for cooked padaek.”
The group now buys fish from the local fishery for 10,000 kip to 18,000 kip per kg, depending on the season.
Once mixed with the other ingredients, the fish is put in jars and the fermentation process takes at least 18 months before the padaek is ready to eat.
“When it is ready, the padaek will have a fine aroma and taste. Then it is ready to be eaten immediately or used as an ingredient to flavour other foods,” Mrs Tai said.
Each member of the group sells the padaek they make at home to Mrs Tai’s family.
“Even though each family uses the same ingredients, there may be a difference in the taste depending on the amount of salt that was added. So I have to taste as well as check the quality of every jar of padaek to make sure it meets our group’s standards. This ensures the taste is always the same,” she said.
The Padaek Nonsavang Group received the One District, One Product label this year, which is a testament to the quality of their products.
The group makes several products: raw padaek, cooked padaek sauce, padaek sauce for spicy salads, padaek powder, spicy small fish sauce, and seasonings like pa som (pickled fish) and pa chao (salted fish).
The cooked padaek sauce sells for 5,000 kip per 200cc bottle, the raw padaek starts from 25,000 kip per kg, and padaek sauce for salads starts from 35,000 kip per kg. Mrs Tai offers a special price for bulk sales.
The best season for the group’s products is after Buddhist Lent, when Mrs Tai’s family can make a profit of 6 million to over 7 million kip a month. 
The Nonsavang Group’s products are on sale in Nonsavang village, Pakxe district, and also at Oupmoung village in Sikhottabong district, Vientiane.

By Souksamai Boulom
(Latest Update November 18, 2017)

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